29 November 2021

The evolution of remuneration and rewards.

Submitted by Bronwyn
The evolution of remuneration and rewards.


An award-winning expert’s talent journey

“The South African Reward Association (SARA) recently hosted its annual Reward Awards. The Awards celebrate companies and professionals who design total reward solutions that attract, retain, motivate and engage employees in a way that makes a difference to their organisations. Among the award categories is the prestigious President’s Award – a special award that honours outstanding achievement in the field of total reward. The 2021 President’s Award recipient, Morag Phillips, Director at 21st Century, a specialist Remuneration and Human Capital consultancy, discusses her journey in rewards and the future of people management.

Morag’s career in reward began 21 years ago, when the remuneration field was completely new territory for her. “One of the first questions I posed when I was asked to join 21st Century was, ‘Why would people pay money to find out what other people earn?’”, she smiles. 

Morag continues, “The whole concept of benchmarking and generating knowledge about how people earn money was foreign at that stage. But ultimately, I realised that it was exactly what companies needed to make decisions and to run properly. I wasn't familiar with the topic of remuneration yet, but I was familiar with aspects of working in the business world.

“Chris (Chris Blair – CEO) and Mark (Dr Mark Bussin – Chairperson) originally wanted me to start the Salary Survey division when they first founded 21st Century in Parktown North, working from a small house. They realised they needed a survey as a foundation for running a remuneration consultancy. And while there were competitors, there was space for a new player in the market. The timing was amazing”.

An unexpected career

Morag originally had her eye on a career in social work, for which she achieved an Honours Degree. But following an overseas experience, where Morag conducted social and welfare work, her focus shifted. She adds, “It was a tough time. The realities and hardship I witnessed weren’t easy to see, and when I returned to SA, I decided to focus on counselling as was the space I worked in before going overseas. But ultimately, couldn’t get a job. So, I made clothes for people, babysat children and even worked in a call centre doing market research. I also did someone's books for a while, just to make a living”.

Serendipitously, things shifted dramatically when Morag was offered a job as a marketing assistant through a friend in the business. “I got the job and it just clicked. I discovered by accident that I loved business and eventually worked my way up to the Marketing Manager position. That was when I was approached to join 21st Century,” says Morag.

How cold calling gave rise to a rewards revolution

21 years later, 21st Century is a national leader in remuneration and reward. The company’s web-based national salary survey is one of the largest, most reputable salary surveys in Africa, and is audited annually for accuracy. It all came from humble beginnings, though. Morag explains:

“The extensive database we now have all started when we decided to convert mini surveys into a national survey data base. The first survey that I did was in 2000 for call centres. Call centres were new in SA and there was no data on what to pay people yet. So, I would phone people who had call centres, collect the data, analyse it, write a benchmark report and then invoice them. It was a cold call process that came with a lot of rejection. But I have learned that if you have something to talk about that you really believe in, it’s not really a sales call.

“The field of rewards was tiny then, so the idea that companies now have reward analysts and heads of rewards is an evolution in thinking. In those days, it all fell under HR but is now specialised. That was the first time we ran a full survey and all we have done since then is scale. We now have teams of analysts, consultants and communicators doing it on a larger sale. The first big survey is still running today, and we run it annually”.

The future of rewards

Morag concludes, “Going forward, I’d like to see a bigger focus on pay at all levels, not just at the top. It’s a balance of employment vs pay at a “living wage”. Our biggest challenge is managing an unequal world. The nature of business and life is that there will always be some unfairness and unequalness. But what do we do as humans to change this – even slightly? And what can we do as businesses?

“I am privileged and honoured to be a part of the pool of people that can strive to make a difference in this area. Happy people are the ingredients to success and can become influencers in their own worlds. I drive this whole-heartedly, and have the luxury of being in 21st Century where this is part of our mission. Our industry is about learning, challenges, constant growth and development. The learning never stops.

“More broadly, I feel strongly about equity, equality and privilege and I think that the world has got a lot to learn around how we use our privilege. Some of us land in privilege in the blink of an eye or circumstance. We need to know how to use our privilege for the greater good. We can’t fix the wage gap by just focusing on how much the senior levels earn. We should be covering the entire spectrum of employees. That’s the vision for the future”.


About 21st Century:

21st Century is one of the largest Remuneration and HR consultancies in Africa, with a team of more than 60 skilled specialists, servicing over 1700 clients – including non-profit organisations, unlisted companies, government, parastatals and over two thirds of the companies listed on the JSE. 21st Century offers effective business planning with KPA and strategic planning reviews, creative reward practise modelling, operating modelling, change, stakeholder and culture management, training courses and comprehensive organisational development plans. 21st Century continues to offer solutions via virtual channels during the lockdown period. 

In this volatile and uncertain environment, the way of working is changing dramatically. There are new – and often unprecedented – challenges that require businesses to plan rapidly and take decisive and immediate action. 21st Century offers a Resilience Audit assessing businesses during COVID-19 for their sustainability, offering these businesses tailor made solutions and developing new remuneration structures and performance measurement systems, as well as helping with managing organisational changes within the business.

Issued By:

The Lime Envelope

On Behalf Of: 21st Century

For Media Information: Bronwyn Levy

Telephone: 011 467 9233/ 076 078 1723

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